Last week I was asked by a life coach how she could find an ideal accountant for her business, how she should go about it and what to look for before hiring.
This is a great question and a quick google search of “how to find an accountant” revealed 115,000,000 results – looks like she is not alone in her inquiry. I will list a few good articles further down but first I would like to explore with you what it could mean for you not finding the ideal accountant:
Why you need an ideal accountant
Your ideal accountant can be the pivotal point whether or not you and your business succeed.
Usually, every time I mention finances and taxes, people cringe. I hear it over and over how you’d rather go to the dentist than to your (or any) accountant. Just the thought of it makes you sweat or freeze, depending on your physiology. You quickly find another, way more important and pleasant, thing to do (like scrubbing your dirty toilet with a toothbrush).
But with this attitude, you secure yourself a spot on the train to financial bankruptcy and ultimately the death of your business. You better jump off quickly and change your bias. Finances and taxes are part of being in business. If you don’t want to have anything to do with it, don’t become an entrepreneur or business owner.
If you are on the wrong track, he/she can help you get off that train and move toward your desired financial destination. Of course I am not talking about hiring an accountant will make sure you will succeed with your business, there is more to it. But the right accountant will ensure that possible financial pitfalls can be safely navigated around.
Another positive effect of having a trustworthy and ideal accountant (especially for those of you who cringe when hearing finances and taxes) is, that you don’t have to worry as much and you don’t need to deal as much with finances and taxes. And that’s probably exactly what you want.
What I learned hiring the wrong accountant
And then there are those of you who had a bad experience with an accountant. This can happen to the best of us, it actually happened to me a few years back and I am an accountant. It was the first time I was hiring an accountant myself and in hindsight I did a lot of things wrong.
You wonder why I would want to hire an accountant in the first place, since I am an accountant myself. Well, Accounting standards and Tax Code vary from country to country, even from province to province (county to county). Back then I was newly living in Canada and wanted to make sure I follow all the standards and laws. I thought it was a good idea to hire an accountant to help me with closing my books and filing the taxes for my Canadian business.
I got a recommendation from a fellow entrepreneur, she told me she and her father have used this person for years already and she assured me that he was competent and trustworthy. So I contacted this person, let’s call him John, and I asked for an initial meeting without any additional research.
It turned out John was a partner in a big accounting corporation and was the head of a team of accountants. He seemed friendly and decent to talk to and both my husband and I had a good initial impression. Since I had no other referrals on the back burner, and time was running out, I hired him and his team to help me close my books and file my taxes.
From the beginning, I was clear and upfront with John that I was an accountant myself. I would prepare the books and send the drafts, his only job was to double check it and to make sure I did follow the Canadian tax code and then to file the taxes on my behalf.
To make a long story short, before I knew it
there were three (3) different people from his team working on my drafts (alarm bell 1)
I was bombarded with questions from each one of them (alarm bell 2)
they ‘adjusted’ and ‘corrected’ my drafts and send them back to me for review. When I realized they were full of mistakes and typos (alarm bell 3) I should have canceled the contract. (But everybody deserves a second chance, right?)
After several back and forths, and more oversights and mistakes from their side, it seemed like we finally had arrived at the right numbers and structure and they filed the taxes on my behalf. Even though I had their firm rates and average hourly rates in writing when the bill came I was shocked, to say the least. They charged me $4,000 and considering the fact that I had to point out several mistakes along the way I suspected they had also charged me for fixing their own mistakes.
No need to mention that I didn’t continue working with John and his team. If something like this can happen to me it can happen to you, and you might not realize their mistakes and they get away with it. But remember, even though they sign your return, in the end, you are responsible for the accuracy of your return.
Here is what I learned:
It’s important to be clear on what relationship you want with your ideal accountant (see Step 1 below)
It’s better to spend a lot of time researching, evaluating and finding your ideal accountant than afterwards spending a lot of time licking your wounds and trying to fix the problems
ask for their average hourly rate and also for an estimate of time
ask them how they are going to invoice you and require them to give a certain detail on what they were doing for the money they are asking
In the beginning, it might be a good idea to have a person you trust to look over the work of your accountant if you don’t understand enough of the subject matter
It’s important that you listen to your gut and when things don’t run the way you want, you have to speak up right away
But how and where can you find your ideal accountant?
Step 1 – get clear on what you want
a) do you want to hire a solopreneur, a small firm or a big corporation ?
each has its advantages and disadvantages. Dealing with a solopreneur or small firm can be way more personal and this might be less scary for you. You also might get better service for less money and you know who you are dealing with, the person you had your initial meeting with. Not like in my case where three different strangers, who I had never the opportunity to interview, were messing around in my books.
b) do you want a woman or a man as your accountant?
Some of us feel more comfortable if we can talk with somebody of our gender other prefer the oposite gender, or you might think it makes no difference to you. No right or wrong here just be aware of what you prefer.
Step 2 find some candidates
Even though my story shows you can have bad luck with a referral, it is still one of the better ways to find your ideal accountant. Reach out to other business owners and entrepreneurs in your city and ask them who they are using. Ask them about their experience with their accountant, how long they are working together already etc. This all said please be aware, just because they are happy with their accountant does not necessarily mean you will be.
The easiest way to find an accountant is probably to google for one. You want to make sure you include your city in the search since it obviously doesn’t help you (much) to find an ideal accountant in Toronto when you yourself live in Vancouver.
a little old school but still a good start could be to look in the yellow pages of your local phonebook. But wait, don’t just take the first one on the list and run with it. Take several names and go to the computer and google them. If they don’t have a website stay away, after all, you are running a business in the 21st century and an accountant from the last century is not getting you anywhere.
4) Advertisements in Newspapers
pay attention next time you read your local paper, next to doctors, lawyers and realtor ads you might also find an ad from an accountant or an accounting firm. Write down their name and website and go google them (see point 3)
5) Chamber of commerce
go to the website of your chamber of commerce or call them and ask if they have a list of local accountants.
Step 3 – find the right fit FOR YOU
After the first easy steps we arrived at the most critical and most difficult step of the three, finding the ideal accountant, one that is a good fit for you and your business.
Once you have a few names together you want to call them and set up an initial appointment to meet in person. You should make clear from the beginning that this is just an interview and you have not and will not hire the person that very day. You should not be charged for an initial meeting but don’t take more than 20-30 minutes of their time.
Here are some great articles on what to ask in an initial appointment:
As mentioned in the article from Lifehacker, besides the qualifications of the accountant you want to hire it is crucial that you find a good fit, somebody that you feel comfortable with (and not intimidated by).
After all you will be talking about your finances and the more your accountant knows about you and your business the better can he/she serve you. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing sensitive information you could hurt your business in the long run. And then here my
Sometimes when we are in unfamiliar situations that make us uneasy, stressed or nervous and we might not pay attention to ourselves and how we are really feeling. This is why I try to not make a decision on the spot, even if I am excited and have a good gut feeling. To make important decisions I ‘sleep over it’ first.
So many times this tactic has prevented me from making a (big) mistake. Because once you are out of the situation, out if the energy field and influence of a person or situation, you are thinking clear(er) again. While reflecting on the interaction with a little distance you see things from a better perspective and might feel different (better or worse) than during the meeting. Maybe you realize we were under some kind of spell and if you had committed right there and then it would have been a mistake.
Have you had a bad experience with a less than ideal accountant or have you made spontaneous decisions that you later regretted and it wouldn’t have happened that way if you had given yourself time to think about it first? Let me know in the comments below.